Harvard Medical School brings us up to date with a summary of how researchers are looking for better biomarkers to screen for the presence of prostate cancer.
Biomarkers, to begin with, are indicators that help differentiate cancer cells from normal ones. Since the 90s we have relied on PSA ( prostate specific antigens ) tests to help distinguish prostate cancer cells from normal ones. What this PSA test does is look for high levels of PSA in the blood which MIGHT indicate the presence of cancer cells. But the problem is it might NOT. It could simply indicate there is something going on with the prostate that is not cancerous.
It could simply suggest a benign condition. Perhaps the prostate is enlarged—yet benign. So the PSA test, at the moment the only tool in the tool box, to help hunt for prostate cancer cells could present a benign condition of the gland. Even if the PSA proves to be positive, the test alone does not tell you which cancers are aggressive and need treatment and which are slow-growing and can be managed more conservatively. So, scientists are busy looking for other tests that can clearly identify prostate cancer and tests that can determine whether a detectable cancer is aggressive or not.
Here is a list of promising research methods currently being carried out by cancer institutes and universities:
Urine-based biomarkers: The prostate releases material that can be detected and measured in the urine. New urine tests can detect changes in genes and biomarkers that are specific to prostate cancer. The results of these neTagsw tests can help pinpoint whether a biopsy is necessary.
Genetic tests of prostate tissue: Scientists are looking now at newer and more sophisticated tests that detect markers of specific genes that help doctors distinguish between the slow-growing and more aggressive forms of prostate cancer. These tests can even find hidden cancers in men whose biopsies were negative.
Circulating tumor cells: Cancer spreads when tumor cells break away and get swept into the bloodstream. That’s when they begin growing in other parts of the body—bones, lymph nodes, etc. Another test being investigated is called “liquid biopsy.” Here a simple blood test captures and measures circulating tumor cells and their corresponding telltale markers. It should be noted that this kind of test is purely investigative and not yet readily available. Yet, when it will be it could one day reduce the need for follow-up biopsies and help determine when prostate cancer treatment is working.